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In 2008, EMC Corp. recognized that, for the first time in modern history, its work force was comprised of four distinct generations—Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y—that bring unique perspectives, experiences, and expertise to the business.

“We recognized the opportunity to tap into this rich mix of cross-generational talent, promoting a culture of education and cross collaboration, in order to drive greater creativity and innovation within EMC,” says Cindy Gallerani, director of university relations for the Massachusetts-based global developer and provider of information infrastructure technology and solutions.

The company launched a task force designed to conduct research and collect feedback from its employees to identify the unique characteristics, qualities, and preferences of each generation. Their findings were as follows:

Born 1922–1945

Make up 8 percent of U.S. work force

  • Continue to lead and contribute to organizations
  • Use their skills and knowledge to help younger generations
  • Motto: Work to work
  • Tools: Telephone, face to face, postal mail
  • Preferred communication style: Direct/hierarchical

Born 1946–1964

Make up 41 percent of U.S. work force

  • Portrayed as a generation of optimism, exploration, and achievement
  • Bring a sense of collaboration to the workplace
  • Motto: Live to work
  • Tools: Face to face, E-mail
  • Preferred communication style: Direct

Generation X
Born 1965–1980

Make up 30 percent of U.S. work force

  • Contributed work-life balance, flex time, and technological savvies
  • Are independent and enjoy informality
  • Want to build a repertoire of skills and experiences
  • Motto: Work to live
  • Tools: Face to face, e-mail
  • Preferred communication style: Direct

Generation Y
Born 1980–2000

Make up 21 percent of U.S. work force

  • Have the most experience around diversity
  • Value partnering and collaboration
  • Look for work that is fulfilling
  • Are goal oriented and are good at multitasking
  • Motto: Work to play
  • Tools: E-mail, voicemail, face to face, texting, social networks, instant messaging, blogging
  • Preferred communication style: Indirect

EMC’s goal was to learn about each generation, such as what motivates its members, how they want to learn and communicate, and more. From this research, the company developed a number of approaches to foster collaboration and employee engagement across the generations, such as:

  • Traditionalists
    • Do: Respect their knowledge, experience, and wisdom.
    • Don’t: Discount their relevance.
  • Baby Boomer’s
    • Do: Answer questions thoroughly and expect to be asked for details; present options; know that body language is important.
    • Don’t: Use controlling or manipulative language.
  • Gen X
    • Do: Talk in short sound bites to keep their attention; present the facts and talk straight; keep them in the loop; listen to them; ask for their feedback; listen to their ideas.
    • Don’t: Use platitudes or buzzwords.
  • Gen Y
    • Do: Seek their feedback constantly; provide them with feedback; praise often; use the concept of “play” in workplace; let language paint a visual picture; use structure when communicating with them.
    • Don’t: Talk down to them.

“We looked at our research and decided that we had the opportunity to drive greater receptivity and acceptance across generations,” says Melissa Levi, senior director of HR at EMC.

The company launched the EMC Multigeneration Employee Circle, one of nine affinity circles at EMC, which is open to EMC employees of all ages and levels. Its mission is to understand and develop new ways EMC’s multi-generational workforce can work together to drive organizational success. Members regularly hold events, such as workshops, luncheons, and community involvement activities, which promote the value of diversity. For example, during a recent workshop, group members helped colleagues not proficient in social media understand the nuances of sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and helped them set up their own profiles.

In addition, EMC’s internal training and development curriculum embraces the company’s different generations through various courses and curriculum, and the company’s online employee social networking platform provides opportunities for employees across levels, functions, and locations to connect with each other and share ideas and information through online discussions. Finally, the company created local outreach opportunities for employees to engage in community-based multi-generational partnerships with local schools and organizations.

EMC tracks the success of its multi-generational efforts is by looking at how quickly its Multigeneration Employee Affinity Circle has expanded in membership. The group has more than 250 members, with even more employees participating in sponsored programs, educational seminars, and events.

“We’re also seeing an increase in engagement among our employees and senior leaders,” Gallerani says.

For example, the company’s internal social network has become a robust forum where employees can actively participate in dialogue and discussion, and share information online.

Additionally, as a result of the level of interest among EMC’s work force, the company’s training and development organization is also rolling out training modules focused on multi-gen related development areas.

“Generational differences really are a strength of every organization,” Levi says.

Adds Gallerani: “It’s so important to make sure we encourage all generations to share their knowledge, skills, and experiences on the different projects and teams to which they are contributing. This type of collaboration drives innovation.”